Hancock County Leaders Look For Solutions To Overcrowded Court

Hancock County leaders are scrambling to figure out what to do about the overcrowding situation at its Justice Court building in Bay St. Louis.

Justice Court was moved to the Highway 90 building in 1996 to alleviate overcrowding at the courthouse building on Main Street. Eight years later, county officials find themselves having to deal with overcrowding problems once again.

It's criminal court day at the Hancock County Justice Court building. More than 200 cases are heard there one day a week. The trouble is there's not enough space to accommodate everyone.

"Nowhere to sit, not enough room for everybody. It's suffocating," Hancock County resident Lindsey Hogsten said.

Many people are forced to stand up inside the courtroom and even in the hallways.

"When you call the docket, we call all the names on the docket. They have to answer. Some folks are in the hallway, some warrants have been issued by error because the people didn't answer the docket call. They didn't hear their name," Justice Court Judge Ricky Adam said.

Judge Adam says the overcrowding situation posses a number of safety concerns. Security and fire hazards top the list.

"It's just a matter of time before something happens."

The problem extends beyond the doors of the building. The 30 parking spaces in front of Justice Court don't come close to accommodating the cars of the 200 plus people inside. People end up parking on the nearby service road from Dunbar Avenue to De Montluzin Street, creating major problems for surrounding businesses.

Russell Love, the owner of Bay Pharmacy, knows that first hand.

"On court days... there's no place for our customers to park. It just streams down the road there, just mass confusion."

Judge Ricky Adam says the solution is a simple one.

"We either need a bigger courtroom and a bigger building in a different location, or we need a full time prosecutor where we can have court more than one day a week."

The judge says hiring another county prosecutor and holding court three times a week would cut down the number of cases now being handled in a day. If they can work it out, court officials say they could go to the new schedule in January.

As for the parking problems, County Supervisors are looking into purchasing or leasing property to create a parking lot.

by Al Showers